“Lawyers are the only persons in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.” – Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)
How do you win in court? It starts with selecting the proper lawyer. But with countless factors to consider, finding the ideal lawyer to navigate your case can be an overwhelming task. Here are three cautionary tales that I’ve gleaned from the workplace law trenches.
A lawyer’s search engine rankings have nothing do with his or her legal skill. Rather, Internet-based advertising allows lawyers to pay for and then snatch up high rankings on Google that are not indicative of the quality of the lawyer or her firm. Similarly, there are no rules limiting lawyers without much experience in employment law from professing that they practise it, on their websites and in the media, and they often do. For instance, Toronto’s Yellow Pages has ads for 42 lawyers who allegedly practise ‘wrongful dismissal’. However, many of those same lawyers appeared when I searched for ‘personal injury lawyers’, which wasn’t surprising at all. The reality is that there are few exclusively practicing employment lawyers. Most just dabble in the area, despite advertising otherwise. If you need a workplace lawyer, inquire what percentage of the lawyer’s time is spent solely on workplace law matters — and don’t pay for his or her education.
Some lawyers advertise ‘free’ consultations. These can be a sham. A free consultation is usually nothing more than a bait and switch tactic, designed to get you in the door and then convince you to spend money for any substantive work performed afterward. In law, like in life, you will often get exactly what you pay for. If you need good advice, it will not come for free.
The biggest problem that most people face with lawyers is their billing practices. This is because the regulatory bodies that oversee lawyers have few restrictions governing how they charge for their work. As a result, lawyers are often left to their own devices, charging clients based on any combination of their time spent or the result obtained, whichever will suit their purposes better. In effect, these lawyers will have it both ways. If asked, a lawyer should predict to the best of his or her ability the potential costs of your case. Then confirm that arrangement in writing.
• Daniel Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP.